Oh my gosh! I just ran a 5k PR on the treadmill!
YES! I ran a 10k, 15k, 10 mile and half marathon PR in my marathon!
I just ran a minute 5k PR, but everyone (and my Garmin) think the course was 3 miles instead of a 5k.
My GPS said the course was 13.4, but at 13.1 I had a 30 second PR, but was over a minute off my PR when I finished.
Are these personal record performances? No. And here’s why.
We use PRs to brag about our accomplishments, to find suitable training buddies, as entries on our running resumes and on applications to get into races with qualifying standards or to join racing teams or competitive clubs. While for some of these purposes, being a little imprecise with the PRs is no big deal, but for others, being honest and following some rules are necessary to conduct ourselves with integrity. So what are these rules?
Let’s get basic for a moment. What exactly are PRs? PRs, or personal records, are the fastest you have ever raced at a distance. We can extrapolate some rules from this definition.
RULE #1: Only official times run in races count as PRs.
Let’s use an analogy. When you were in high school, if you prepared to go to college you would have taken the SATs or ACTs. Leading up to those tests, you likely took practice exams. Would you submit your best practice scores with your applications? Of course not! The same is true for your best times. Running outside of a race is practice for racing. It’s important that we limit PRs to race settings because then your performance is on a measured course and the time is independently measured (meaning not by you using a stopwatch, GPS or treadmill display) and the results are verifiable.
There’s a reason that races have rules, are carefully measured and have sophisticated timing equipment – left to their own devices many runners would fudge the numbers on their performance. I often think I ran xx time, only to see I actually ran a couple to a few seconds slower in actuality. It’s in our nature to be a little overly optimistic! But it’s also in enough people’s nature to fudge the numbers that we have to have these rules. And come on! It’s in all of our best interests to be honest.
Possible Exception: Independently Timed Time Trials on Measured Courses
The only time you might include a time outside of a race setting as a PR if you ran a time trial, independently timed on a measured course (like a track). When I say independently timed, I don’t mean by your GPS watch, I mean by someone other than you with a stop watch. The closest thing I have done to racing a mile as an adult is participating in a time trial on the track with my training group timed by my coach. Because it was independently timed (by my coach), I ran it in front of (well behind) witnesses and it was on a measured course (a track), I feel it’s an acceptable PR. On my running resume or in an application, I’d indicate that that time was earned in a time trial.
Possible Exception #2: The Race Has a Weird Official Time Policy
This might only apply to me! I ran a certified half marathon and the racing company that put on the race decided that they’d only record gun time for the top 3 runners, but chip time for everyone else. While it’s noble that they want to only recognize the top 3 runners based on gun time, they could still use the chip time as the official time like they do for everyone else (they could have also told us about this when we lined up and I wouldn’t have lined up a couple of rows back!).
I wouldn’t care except for this one race I happened to run a 1:25:59.59 chip-time as evidenced by this screen grab of my age group, while my gun time was 1:26:00.50. I use this the 1:25:59 as my PR because it’s verifiable in print and I think the policy is arbitrary. Sure, it’s one second. But that’s a huge second that I actually in reality hustled my butt off for! This is a completely random thing, but since I’m telling everyone else to be honest, I better be too, right?! If I was applying for something serious, I would certainly use the official time since that is all that can be verified by the average search and I would not want to appear dishonest on an application, but when I am reporting my PRs I say 1:25:59! Annoying!
RULE #2: Splits from races are not PRs for the distances shorter than the actual race.
Running your 5k split of a 10k race faster than you’ve ever run a 5k before doesn’t count as your 5k PR. WHAT? I know. Sounds harsh, but it doesn’t. First, mile markers are not necessarily spot on and if you’re basing it off of your GPS – it might be even more unreliable! Second, if you tell people your 10k PR they will know you’re faster than your 5k PR, so don’t sweat it!
Possible Exception: The Race is Certified and Records Your Split Times
Boston is a certified marathon and records every 5k split. Those distances and times are legit and verifiable. But just as with the time trial exception, I would recommend disclosing that the PR was run within a longer race time on a running resume or race application.
RULE #3: Only times run in races that are the advertised distance count as PRs.
I can’t tell you how many races are not the advertised distance, especially 5ks. 3 miles is not a 5k. 2.97 miles is not close enough. 3.02 is not close enough. 3.1 miles is a 5k. I wrote an entire post about how to tell if the race you just ran is short and why it matters. (Hint: it does!) Some people go so far as to say only USATF certified race courses should count for PR purposes. While this might make sense at the very elite levels, for most of us, this is completely impractical because so few shorter races are certified!
Especially for short races, I go by this: if the race director cares and GPS watches are measuring it very close to accurate (within .02 miles) and the race does not seem suspect under the analysis I wrote about here, then I go with it. I feel especially good about it if I can corroborate the time with another race. My 5k PR was run on an uncertified course, but I know the race director and know he cares about accuracy. I also know my watch measured it at 3.11 and others had similar measurements. About a month later I ran another 5k at night on a dark path 8 seconds slower. So, I feel comfortable saying that the first race is my PR.
As for the longer races, since Boston requires that qualifying races be certified, most marathons are certified courses. Also, since many half marathons can be used as Olympic Marathon qualifiers, they too are often certified. But with halfs, proceed with caution! Everyone and their brother seems to be putting on half marathons these days, so there will likely be some hacky races out there. If in doubt, check the website or contact the race director to find out.
Of course, if you merely want to brag to your non-running co-workers or something, tell them whatever you want, but when it comes to preparing a running resume or applying for team or race entry or if you want to be straight up and honest about it, it’s important to follow these rules.
What do you think? Do you follow these rules for your PRs? Are there any rules or exceptions you’d add or subtract from my list?